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We wish you a happy new year and a warm welcome to the new decade!

Jesse at the top of Terry peak in SD wearing blind skier vest.


I’ve been reflecting on the last 10 years of life and the changes that I have experienced individually, in my marriage and as a member of the National Federation of the Blind of North Dakota. At the same time as we are transitioning into a new decade, in Fargo we have been digging ourselves out of more than a foot of snow. I can’t help but think about the ways that the two are related. Each moment is like a snowflake the moments accumulate slowly at first while you watch, but like snow falling you may wind up with a small accumulation in a few days and a lot of snow spread out over time. You may receive a blast of snow with a blizzard that causes drifts of snow that reach up to rooftops and a small amount of snow over the rest of the winter.

What we truly need is just the right amount of snow over the winter, so that we have enough moisture for the farmland and not so much to cause flooding. We hope that this comes in smaller more frequent amounts of snow, so that it is easier to manage.

Effort in the NFBND affiliate is like snowfall. We become motivated and put forth a blizzard of activity, this can lead to burnout causing an activity drought. So, it’s important we concentrate on why we are a part of this incredible organization, how are actions can affect our fellow members and other people in the blindness community and how we can budget our energy, so that we can spend our reserves where we will have the greatest impact.

How can we ensure our energy will impact the lives of many in ND?

One critical element relates to spending energy is first identifying the pieces that are most effective to focus on. in this circumstance you look at the overarching goal. All to often we get stuck on the wrong details. I’m taken back to the snow metaphor. I remember the first time I ever shoveled the sidewalk in front of my parent’s house. I was six years old and my dad Duane, wanted me to try shoveling snow. He started by making the moment exciting by demonstrating how to scrape and move the snow starting at the corner and he did a three square-foot section. My dad towered over me at the time. He was 6 feet tall, broad shouldered and weighed about 320 pounds. He was a strong powerful man who worked in the construction industry. He grew up on a farm near Michigan North Dakota and began working hard at an early age. I idolized him and so, when he invited me to give it a try. I was thrilled.

I remember the effort it took to lift the heavy snow and toss it on top of the pile next to the sidewalk. I wanted to do a good job, but most of all I wanted to impress him. My dad watched me for a minute and said “it looks like you got things under control. I’m going inside and you can come in when you are finished shoveling” then I was alone and I started to feel the cold, I started to feel my muscles ache, I kept moving, because I didn’t want to disappoint my dad and started to rush. I started leaving some snow on the sidewalk as I shoveled, but all I wanted to do was get inside to warm up. After what seemed like an hour of work I finished up and went inside. I was so proud of myself and had my dad look out the window at my work. The first thing he said was “look at all that snow you left on the sidewalk” he then shook his head and grimacing he walked away. All I wanted to hear was “good job”. From that day forward every time I shoveled the snow off the sidewalk I tried to get every bit of snow off the pavement, but for some reason I could never seem to get it completely cleared. I would always feel like a failure after shoveling. I don’t blame my dad for what he said to me. He learned to talk like that somewhere maybe from his father, however I have been conscious of those types of situations since then and I don’t ever want to have the same effect on others. Fortunately, since then I’ve had enough people to point out what I’m doing right, how I am succeeding and I slowly gained confidence. My wife Sherry is at the top of this list and has been there to support me when it was just the two of us. She’s my wife, best friend and has always been a top role model for me. She is one of the most confident, fearless, strong, intelligent, motivated and compassionate people I know. She has an incredible ability to help people find the best in themselves.

In 2016 are lives changed when we soon found our Federation family after Milton Ota invited us to our first state convention. The support we’ve received from mentors in the NFB has impacted us in countless ways and we now pay it forward. Fortunately, the affiliate has an incredible group of members and the support continues to move in a great big ever-expanding circle. Just yesterday, we had a member who is feeling overwhelmed and needed to step back from a responsibility. Board member Richard stepped up and said “I am at your service to help you realize your potential whenever you need”.

Recently, I finally realized that the purpose of shoveling the sidewalk is not to have a spotless sidewalk, but to create a safe path for people to walk along. The goal in shoveling a sidewalk is not perfection it is creating a safe environment for people. The NFB is not that different, one of the beautiful things about being a part of the Federation is that we believe strongly in building people up. We work hard to clear a safe path of progress, so people can feel good when they get to the final destination of their dreams becoming reality.

It is one of my resolutions this year to not let perfectionism get in the way of my achievements and the achievements of our membership. It’s important to keep a clear image of the goal in mind and understand what can be done given our resources, which includes the number of people available to help out with a given project.

The way that we move forward is by identifying what’s important, understanding that the results will not happen overnight and chipping away at our goals until they become a reality. I believe strongly in our members and the capabilities of blind people I know that blindness is not what stops us from living our dreams. The factor that stops us is that we don’t believe that we are capable. This needs to change and we will change it over time in society, but we don’t have to wait until society changes, we can choose as an organization to believe in each other. Believe is a strong concept. When you believe in a person, they start to believe in themselves. That believe that a person can succeed strengthens with small successes and becomes confidence. When a person becomes self-confident and is willing to keep trying new things, they become unstoppable. If you don’t believe this then I encourage you to join us and see for yourself.  If you do believe in the capabilities of others I encourage you to join us and contribute towards a better tomorrow.

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